When I started reporting on marine engineering four years ago, the first sulphur emission control areas had just been introduced. Carnage was predicted, although ships had been comfortably switching between heavy fuel oil and marine diesel oil for decades (when sailing into California or preparing for drydocking, for example). In the end, there were relatively few problems, although fuel quality issues did temporarily spike as greater quantities of MDO were bunkered.
Today, as I take up the editorship of Marine Propulsion & Auxiliary Machinery, we are less than a year away from a far bigger change. Carnage is once again predicted when the IMO global sulphur cap comes into force. This time, concerns are harder to dismiss. The scale of change, the potential strain on the supply of compliant fuel and the challenges involved in the alternative compliance methods make the 2020 change far more onerous. Plotting the industry’s preparedness for the global sulphur cap will be one of my main tasks in the year ahead.
The 2020 sulphur change is unprecedented, but the industry’s ambition to at least halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have been unimaginable even four years ago. IMO’s vision, bolstered late last year by Maersk’s even bolder target for itself, is set to accelerate the development and uptake of a range of innovative solutions, from electrical propulsion technologies to renewable energy sources and alternative, carbon-neutral fuels. Reporting on these will be a priority as they emerge this year and beyond.
For deepsea shipping, one of the quickest emissions wins is using low-flashpoint fuels, although their affordability and sustainability remain subject to heated discussion. For over a decade, two-stroke engine designers have focused on developing gas-burning capability. With substantial numbers of dual-fuel engines now in service – market leader MAN Energy Solutions has 55 such engines in service today – developers are turning their attention to bringing down the capital cost of their products. Expect major movements in this direction in 2019, with a corresponding impact on the uptake of gas as a marine fuel.
After the introduction of LPG in 2018, the range of alternative fuels available will continue to expand this year. Wärtsilä’s dual-fuel engines can already burn up to 25% hydrogen. MAN Cryo has developed a hydrogen fuel gas supply system that will supply the propulsion system for a Norwegian ferry. And other preliminary investigations are exploring the conversion of renewable electricity into ammonia, and fuelling ships with that totally clean fuel. I will report more on that development very soon.
Alongside the continued evolution of alternative fuels, the hybridisation of deepsea shipping will begin in earnest this year. Teekay Offshore Services’ innovative shuttle tankers, under construction at Samsung Heavy Industries, set the pace. Their deployment of LNG and volatile organic compounds as fuel alongside batteries won Teekay the Environmental Award in last year’s Tanker Shipping & Trade Awards, organised by Riviera Maritime Media – more owners of deepsea ships will find the rationale for investing in hybrid propulsion this year.
These are the subjects that I expect to occupy me in the year ahead: sulphur preparedness, cost-effective engine developments, the expanding availability of alternative fuels and widespread hybridisation. To that list, I will add one hope: that 2019 is the year that shipping begins to take biofouling seriously. Ballast water management is just half the solution. Regardless of how stringent emissions regulations become, until we begin to control the organisms we carry on our hulls, shipping will remain a risk to sensitive marine environments.
Above all, I look forward to speaking with you, Marine Propulsion readers, about the issues affecting your business and your technology choices. Please do get in touch with me at email@example.com to share your views. And of course I look forward to meeting many of you at Riviera and other industry events in the year and years ahead.